This quaint little bird, which may be easily taken at first sight for a quail, is yet at once distinguishable from our true quails by having no hind-toe, which applies to all the members of its family found with us. The said family is quite a distinct one, and the birds composing it are often called in books hemipodes— a silly name, because it means " half-foot " and only one toe out of the normal four is missing. Nevertheless, it is better than button-quail or bustard-quail, because the birds are neither quails nor bustards. The present species is the most widely distributed in our limits, being only absent from elevations over 7,000 feet in the Himalayas, and from parts of the north-west; for, though found in Cutch and Rajputana, it does not occur in Sind and the Punjab. It extends across the rest of Asia to Formosa, including the Malay Islands. Hume figures the Eastern race as distinct, but it is not now so considered ; it is merely larger and of a less reddish brown.
It may be distinguished from the other and less widely distributed hemipodes by its bluish-grey beak and legs, which mark it off from the yellow-legged species, and by being barred with black on the breast, which distinguishes it from the little button-quail, which also has a blue beak and frequently blue legs also. The hen is larger than the cock, as in all this family, and also more strikingly coloured, having a black patch running down the throat and breast.
This little bird has the general habits of the true quails, being found among grass and bush-cover, and avoiding high forest and arid tracts ; it also feeds on seeds, herbage, and insects. I suspect it is more insectivorous than quails proper, its larger bill enabling it to manage insects of bigger size ; it appears to care little for grain. Hume thinks that these hemipodes do not drink, but I have seen them do so in captivity, and the fact that they are not to be seen drinking when wild probably only means that they quench their thirst with clew instead of resorting to bodies of water for drinking purposes. Their more insectivorous habits— if I am right about these— would also probably imply greater independence of water, for it is animal-feeding birds which can generally best dispense with this, though among beasts the reverse holds good.
These birds are generally solitary or at most in pairs, except when a brood of young is about; they lie very close and fly only for a few yards at a time, after which they are almost impossible to raise again, and it takes a smart dog to get them up at all. Nevertheless, they migrate a little, but only according to circum stances, to avoid cold in the hills or floods in the plains. Their disposition is quite different from that of the true quails, as they are singularly tame in captivity, instead of wildly nervous like nearly all true game birds; and probably quails are serious enemies to them, as I have found that hemipodes of any sort, taken out of a dealer's crate of quails, are generally much plucked, just as the tiny blue-breasted quail is. This may perhaps be the reason why this bird frequents gardens so much.
But the most remarkable point about this bird and its kin is the peculiar reversal of their sex relations. The hen, as we have seen, is the larger and finer bird; she is also the fighter, and is constantly captured by the natives as a fighting-bird, the attraction being another female in a cage, while males are never so caught. So well is the distinction known that the two sexes have different names in more than one language, the cock in Telugu being Koladu, and the hen Pured, while in Tamil he is Ankadeh, and the hen Kurung kadeh. In the Malay countries, too, the name of the bird, Pee-yoo, is applied in contempt to a hen-pecked man, for the cock bustard quail not only does not fight, but makes the nest and sits on the eggs. The nest varies from a mere "scrape" to a proper though loose structure made of dry grass, and often domed over. It is commonly found in the Darjeeling tea gardens in May and June, but in the plains the breeding season is later, and extends to September in Burma. As, however, eggs have been taken in March at the south end of the Malay peninsula, the birds may breed here and there almost all the year.
Only four eggs are laid, at any rate as a rule ; they are short, and may show a tendency to the "peg-top" shape; they are glossy and minutely peppered all over on a dirty-white ground, and generally blotched with larger markings as well; they are about an inch long— i.e., large for the size of the bird—which is much smaller than a common quail.
The note of the bird, chiefly given out by the hen, is a purring sound according to Mr. Seth Smith, who has studied the species in captivity, but Hutton says, speaking of it in the Dun, that it has a pleasing, ringing note; he also says it is brought in large numbers for sale, but this was not the case in Calcutta in my time, though the species is supposed to be common about there. It is a much nicer aviary bird—like all hemipodes—than the true quails, but of little interest to the sportsman, being scantily distributed, and giving a very poor shot for a good deal of trouble.
Besides the native names above mentioned, this bird is called Durwa at Eatnagiri, Kare-haki in Canarese, and Timok by the Lepchas.